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First of all, while I'm not exactly apologizing for the Glenn Beck posts, and I agree with everything I said in them, the style was rather more ranty than what I generally try to put up here, and they probably should've stayed on Facebook. I intend to try to maintain this blog as a place for level-headed discourse that is not unnecessarily antagonistic.
On the Why Christians Convert to Rome and the East, I got some thoughtful answers from my friend Brad Belschner. Unfortunately, he has stopped maintaining his own blog (which still sits, forlornly, on my "General Staff" list), so I have to blog his thoughts for him. He suggested that for many, the problem is that, for many of us in the Reformed world, we've not been exposed to the weight of tradition and Church history before, so when we discover it, we go a little overboard. It becomes a bit of an obsession, the object of much of our research and reading. Meanwhile, we read our Bibles very little. Tradition, slowly but surely, becomes our #1 epistemological authority, and the Bible takes second place. From here, it then becomes only natural to leave and cleave to Tradition. This, I think, is an accurate account of my own mental struggles on this issue, and of others I have witnessed.
This is not intended as an accusation against Catholics and Orthodox--"See, you guys just don't read your Bibles enough--if you did, you would never be Catholic"--only as an observation about the imbalanced way in which many stumble into those traditions. Whether or not the conclusion is right, the road by which many of us Reformed folk get there is often unsound.
Brad Belschner also offered some good thoughts on Prayers to the Saints, and I am now much more skeptical of them again (although I will not be judgmental again, having once haad that epiphany). There seem to be manifold problems in accounting for how the dead could hear our prayers--can they read minds? Can they read them from a distance? Can they hear thousands--yea, sometimes millions--of prayers at once? It seems that to attribute these powers to them is to attribute very superhuman powers, and it's hard to see theologically why unglorified souls in the intermediate state would be as gods. I'm sure some Catholic theologians have good answers for these questions, though, and I'll certainly try to look into them when I have a chance.

On Socialism, I had tried to direct folks to the follow-up discussion, but it only worked if you were my friend on Facebook. So I'll just post it all here:
Chris Aberle
WB, maybe your choice of the word "absolute" qualifies property rights in a way more subtle than I understand, but for the record, see Rerum Novarum 14-17 (and ff. if you've got the time) for Catholic Social Teaching's derivation and formulation of personal property. You'll note 17 finishes up with some Bible, and note also that the argumentation preceding derives from nearly ubiquitous biblical maxims.

That being said, I think we mostly agree, and we definitely agree on the important things. There are some things that - by their very nature - belong to the community and not the individual. I believe that there are other resources that history suggests *should* belong to the community.

You make a good point with tithe. I also think the whole Jubilee system is very challenging to the anti-socialist or capitalist, but not because it somehow abrogates personal property. In fact, Jubilee law establishes private property so absolutely that markets are powerless to direct its distribution.

I see little nitpicky things all over your post I'd love to comment on, but I feel like this conversation is best had outside of Facebook comboxes and their oppressive word limits. Needless to say, way to strip the name off of a thing (socialism), look at the thing itself (people living in society), and realize that life, humanity, love and charity can never be fully contained by our silly ideas of economics.
August 14 at 12:00am • Delete

Josiah Scott Talbert Truax
Yes, absolutely yes. (and this is why I label myself as one part capitalist, one part socialist.) I am not incredibly well versed in political terms, so pardon me if I am completely off the mark: but won't the new heavens and the new earth be a socialist society? I have this feeling that it will be.

There is nothing wrong with utopia... except for the fact that it will not work in this life. The pursuit of it could perhaps be good, but in INSTITUTION of it almost always leads to very bad things...
August 14 at 12:32am • Delete

Jess R. Monnette
"Church is a socialist organization, a community which tells us that we do not have sole claim over our goods, but which demands that we each sacrifice our goods for a common good, that we give up some of our money for the Church to redistribute to the needy, and which threatens us with far worse punishment than imprisonment if we do not do so."

Bread - What do you mean by the church demands that we sacrifice our goods and how is that different from God making those demands?
August 14 at 1:33am • Delete

Craig Beaton
Alright, a couple questions: First, I agree with you that we shouldn't be forced to choose between the social contracts of Locke and Hobbes. Second, I agree with you (and the most of the Fathers) the poor do have a legitimate claim upon our time, talents, treasures. Third, however, I wonder about the mechanism by which this claim is worked out. I can see how a decision can be both constrained (by this legitimate claim) and free, but I wonder about the role of the State in all this. I guess I just don't buy your analogy between the Church and the State because the Church is covenantally "bound together" in a way that the State is not. It thus strikes me that the State's role in this is ambiguous. The role of the Church is decidely unambiguous b/c the statements of the OT and NT are clear w/ respect to caring for the poor. The role of the State in this concerns me b/c how the Church be embodying the economics of the kingdom if the State is infringing on this territory? FWIW
August 14 at 1:51am • Delete

Adam Naranjo
Brad,

You said: "But a community of people bound together seeking the common good can decide that some of their resources should be shared, with the most-privileged sacrificing for the least-privileged, and in this decision, the givers are both free and constrained"

You seem to believe that this is, at least in some way, a novel thought, while it is actually the very premise of both democratic capitalist, fascist, and Marxist states. The one thing that all modern humanist theories of government agree on is that this balance of freedom and constraint can be achieved through democracy.

The Church has almost always been able to achieve - to one degree or another- this balance between freedom and constraint. And most traditional free market theories provide for this fact. Yes, your typical modern "conservative" American rails against socialism by use of broad generalizations that do not take into account the traditional nuances of free market systems (like the fact that they depended on the Church for Charity), but lets not get bogged down in arguments over rhetoric.

Democracy, which seems to be the only method for government to determine what are the 'common goods' that will require theft, is perhaps the most subtle and yet violent forms of tyranny. (Democracy often devolves into autocracy/oligarchy, as in the case of most modern dictators...)

I have to go to work, but I have more to say. I like where you're going, since I'm kind of an ecclesio-anarcho-syndicalist-socialist-something-like-that.
August 14 at 2:25pm • Delete

Daniel Foucachon
Haven't read through all your comments, but let me just throw this in. I think you're touching on something, but perhaps from the wrong angle? Socialism is not evil - it's where the socialism is. What I mean is this. The family is socialistic, and I'm so glad ("no son, I worked for this food - you make your own money"). But that doesn't mean the society at large is supposed to be socialistic. To put it somewhat simplistically, the more "local" it is, the more socialistic it should be, and the less local, the less socialistic. I'm almost a libertarian when it comes to the Federal Government. I think its task should be very limited. But I'm more and more socialistic the more local it gets, culminating in the family (though the church doesn't lag far behind). In a Christian nation/community, the Church functions on at least as somewhat socialistic foundation (though...it really shouldn't be called that...but rather simply - "The Church", but they'll be doing similar things).

My 2 cents
August 14 at 3:17pm • Delete

Brad Littlejohn
This generated some good discussion (why is it that you have to go to Facebook these days for that? oh well), though not really any outrage, surprisingly.

Chris: Thanks for the kudos...I think I see nitpicky things all over the post as well....I must confess I have not read hardly any Catholic Social Teaching, which is tragic, since I'm a big fan of it (yes, that's supposed to sound absurd). I need to fix that in the coming month.

Josiah: True to a point. However, I really don’t like eschatological positions that say something like “Well, this is how it will be then, but it’s not that way now, and never will be in this world, so we have to act by very different rules now.” To me, that’s not very postmillennialist. There is continuity between the now and the eschaton. The Church is the eschatological kingdom in seed form. We do not sit passively by, living lives according to the rules of this age, and waiting for God to plop the next age down in our laps; rather, we are called to be part of God’s work of ushering in the new age, by living it now. Living by faith means acting on the basis of the future in the present. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be discerning, and, at times, healthily cynical, but it means that we do not dismiss the promised future as utopia—“nowhere.”

Jess: Thanks for such a direct question, although “Bread” is a new nickname. In some ways, it’s completely good and accurate to say that “God demands it.” But I think that if this is all that we say, we risk missing or distorting some important points. For one thing, how do God’s demands come to us? Through the Church. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth and the voice through which God speaks to us (not always as clearly as we would like, but nevertheless, with authority). The Church makes known to us, applies to us, and enforces upon us God’s demands. More fundamentally, though, I want to avoid any way of putting it that encourages individualism. God does not address (or at least, does not merely address) us each as autonomous individuals and say, “I require you to make such-and-such sacrifice”; rather, he forms us into a community and this community requires certain things from us. The economic demands our faith makes upon us come to us not as isolated individuals, but as always already bound together in community. I hope I’m conveying what I want to here.

Craig: I’m not endorsing state socialism here. But we need to recognize what state socialism arises from. It arises out of a genuine desire to create a community based on pursuit of shared goods and charity. But in trying to realize that community in the wrong place and the wrong way, it falls short of its purpose, and often creates more problems than it solves. The problem with the modern nationa-state is that it becomes a substitute for a real community that doesn’t exist, rather than the outgrowth of a real community, as I think I told you when we last chatted. The last line of my post is important for understanding my purpose. If we disagree with something the State is doing, it makes a lot of difference whether we object to the thing in itself, or simply to who’s doing it. I don’t want 10-year-olds driving buses, but I’m a big fan of buses. A lot of conservative Christian rhetoric seems to act as if buses themselves are bad; that is, socialism itself is bad. And if we take that approach, we won’t get very far. I would add, though, that I have some gut feeling, perhaps inspired by Milbank, that there ought to be more socialistic social entities besides the Church, though I certainly wouldn’t say that the State, or anything of nearly that scale.

Adam: Just one remark. I wouldn’t say that a community of people seeking the common good is a novel idea, but I would contest that it is the idea underlying modern liberal democracy. Modern liberal democracies, rather, are founded upon the presupposition that people will have violently competing individual interests, and that the purpose of the State is to regulate these divergent interests by letting them all have a voice and balance each other out (and then, when a dose of extra unity is required, declaring war or rousing nationalistic fervour in some other way). This is quite the opposite, I think, of the balance of freedom and constraint that the Church strives for, a balance in which freedom is not sacrificed to constraint, but is made possible through it.

Daniel: I’m mostly in agreement there, actually. Some of my comments to Craig apply here.
August 14 at 6:06pm • Delete

Adam Naranjo
Brad,

"Modern liberal democracies, rather, are founded upon the presupposition that people will have violently competing individual interests, and that the purpose of the State is to regulate these divergent interests."

We may just be speaking passed each other. Utilitarianism is the single most referred to concept in all major political, and sociological and political philosophical writings. The notion that the government exists for the 'greater/common good'.

Concern with the 'common good' is appropriate, but civil government ought not be the mechanism for providing for the common good.

"This is quite the opposite, I think, of the balance of freedom and constraint that the Church strives for, a balance in which freedom is not sacrificed to constraint, but is made possible through it."

Amen!
August 14 at 7:36pm • Delete

Jay Hershberger
Brad, you give me a lot to think about. The air in Edinburgh must have something in it. Or the scotch...
August 14 at 9:14pm • Delete

Jess R. Monnette
Brad,

Mea Culpa on the bread. Although I do hope the nickname sticks.

You make the statement that the church is a socialist community.

My next question is this: You use the word "socialism" in a way that seems antithetical to the "socialism" that we see around us in other countries (that you rightly attribute to government coercion and theft) as well as our own. What, therefore, is your definition of "socialism" and why is your definition more appropriate to that word than the definition that we generally know and love? It seems that the crux of this discussion hinges on how you are defining socialism. This criticism/question is also geared to all of the commenters that used the word as well.

Brad,

Also. When you say that individuals do not have "sole claim" on their own goods (as the Church demands) it implies that others have some sort of claim on his goods. Is that what you mean? If so do you mean that the other person can take the individual's property if he wants to? If it is expedient? How far does such a "claim" go? The word "claim" seems very loaded and loaded in many ways that give credence to liberal socialism whose mantra is "rob from the rich to give and give it to others."

So - what do you mean by your statement that individuals do not have sole claim on his goods?
August 15 at 9:29pm • Delete

Luke Nieuwsma
A couple thoughts, Bradford:
Even the church doesn't distribute everything evenly - it only distributes to those who have need. That's not really socialism - it's simply helping the poor.

Also, there's a difference between free donations and extortion. I think Moses and Paul both would have called mandatory, European socialism theft. Even Annanias and Saphira were fully allowed to give part of the proceeds of their land and keep the rest of it, if they had been honest about it.

Two of the ten commandments make it pretty clear that we don't have claims to other people's stuff: do not steal, and do not covet. Also, socialism broadly applied squelches a good work ethics. If people still get health benefits, living quarters, and food regardless of how much work they do, they're not motivated to work harder.

But if Christians joined together and voluntarily had a Poor Folk fund and a Visitor/Alien fund, then of course that's not bad. But forcing it from others...?
August 16 at 5:23am • Delete

Brad Littlejohn
Adam: We are somewhat talking past each other. But I would argue that utilitarianism does not seek "the common good" but "the greatest good of the greatest number," having given up on the possibility of a genuinely common good. The two, I think, are very different. But that's a bigger and more complicated discussion than I want to try to pursue here.

Jess: First, defining socialism...how's this: "a social organization in which a community is oriented first of all toward achieving the economic good and social flourishing of the whole community, rather than of individual members, and in which, therefore, those with greater economic means put them at the disposal of those with less."
The family, as Daniel pointed out, is a good example--the family is organized to promote the total good of the whole, rather than of any individual within it, and those with greater resources and gifts are expected to share them with, or use them for, the well-being of the others.

I would not say that this is “antithetical” to the conception socialism that we see around us today; however, because the socialism we see around us is based on a false gospel, it fails altogether to achieve those goals.

Second, well of course I mean that others have some claim on those goods! As to how far it goes, I’m not quite sure yet. I do know that Aquinas, a stodgy conservative and no Communist (or Franciscan) radical, said that property is communal to the extent that if someone is destitute to the point of lacking basic necessities, that it is not theft, but rather, taking that to which they have a legitimate claim, if they take enough to satisfy their needs from those who have some to spare. But that is dodging the question. To dodge it slightly less, I would say that I take it just as far as Scripture does, which seems to be pretty far. In the Torah, the debtors have a claim on the lenders’ money to the extent that their debt is cancelled after seven year; those who have sold land have a claim on it still to the extent that they get it back after fifty years, and those in need have a claim on the money of the wealthy to the extent that the wealthy are required to lend to them even if the debts are about to be cancelled. In the New Covenant, Jesus and the apostles require that the wealthy put their resources at the disposal of the poor, or even that they sell all and give it to the poor—they do not have sole claim on those resources.
That much, I think, is indisputable, and I think we are called to the same standard in our church communities today, but beyond that, as I say, I am not sure.

Luke: First, socialism does not mean distributing everything evenly; it means that resources are put at the disposal of those in the community that have need of them. See the definition I gave in response to Jess.

There is a difference between free donations and extortion, but there is an important alternative that is neither, and thatunderlies this "socialism" that I am talking about. Is the tithe a free donation? Well, not exactly...it's mandated. Who's going to enforce it? The Church is; God is. That's serious enforcement. Ideally we give the tithe, and the other gifts that God requires of us, willingly; or else we may give them because we fear the consequences. Taxation, I think, is the same sort of thing. It's money that we're expected to give, commanded to give, that we give, ideally, willingly, because we think it will do good; or, if not, that we give because we fear the consequences. Neither of these is quite free or quite extortion.

As far as "Do not steal" and "do not covet," that is simply begging the question--if the whole question is "to whom does property belong" then saying, "The Bible says don't take property from those to whom it belongs" doesn't answer the question at all. In the specific applications of those commandments that we see in the Torah, we find that failing to give is a kind of stealing! Thus, resources are not the property simply of those to whom they happen to belong, but of those to whom they are due; if I withhold resources from those to whom they are due (say, the poor), then I am, in effect, stealing. That certainly seems to be the spirit of the Deuteronomic laws.

Before invoking Ananias and Saphira so readily, I would beware of the passage immediately preceding: "And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them." Excellent proof-text for me.
August 16 at 7:18pm • Delete

Alan Handermann
Hello Brad, Just a question. Are you an advocate of sphere sovereignty?
August 17 at 1:00am • Delete

Jess R. Monnette
Brad,

In your version of socialism do individuals own property or does the community own all property? On what do you base your definition and how does that relate to traditional definitions within this academic discussion. (I ask this because I am ignorant of this field and expect that you have studied it.)

Secondly, your definition of socialism states that "those with greater means put them at the disposal of those with less." Thus in your definition individuals are choosing to "give" their property to another. It does not follow, however, that because a person chooses to "give" his property that the receiver has a separate claim to it. e.x. your father may choose to give you $100 but if he does not you do not automatically create a claim in you even though you are family. The key here is the giver volitionally "gives" his property not that he is forced to do so in response to the claim of another.

This giving may be based on his obligations to others (e.x. the church, obeying Christ, government) but this does not create a claim in a third party.

I believe that this distinction is very important because it is on such "claims" that the "evil socialist" governments base their redistribution schemes.

When you say "claim" do you mean that the individual can enforce his claim against another as Aquinas allows for a destitute individual who lacks the necessities of life? If does have that right in the property does he have to pay the individual restitution?
August 17 at 6:16am • Delete

Austin Storm
Thanks very much for airing these thoughts on facebook - I found them very edifying.
August 17 at 7:29pm • Delete

Brad Littlejohn
Hey Jess (sorry for the delayed response--we were traveling),
I think we're running into a terminological impasse here. You are a law student, and are translating what I'm saying here into legal terminology--that's precisely what I don't want to do. There is, I insist, an important but almost forgotten realm that lies between the pure coercion of law and the pure voluntarism of charity as we usually understand it. I'm trying to put some teeth on charity--the demands of charity go further than "it would be a nice thing to do such and such" and go so far as, "you have an absolute duty to do such and such," they go further than, "this is your stuff but you should consider sharing some," to "do not even consider this stuff yours."
Because charity governs all this, the duties are reciprocal, unlike in law. In law, if I have a claim to $1,000 of your money, then you by definition do not have a claim to it. In charity, you say, "Here's $1,000--I realize that this belongs not to me but to you." I should respond with the same measure of charity, treating it not as mine by right, for which I don't need to be thankful, but as yours which you have graciously given. This is a paradox, perhaps, but it makes sense--neither of us considers that we have a claim on it because we know that ultimately God has a claim on it. That isBiblical economics.
Thus, I am not using the word "claim" in the kind of legal sense that you want to, but I think that language is important, for helping us see that charity is not an option, and for helping the giver understand that the gift really does, in an important sense, justly belong to the receiver.
Because of the call to charity, I think that usually, the needy person should not enforce his "claim" against another, except in cases of absolute necessity, as Aquinas says. I don't remember for sure, but I think Aquinas would say that the taker should, (acting on charity, not legal compulsion), repay what he took if he were later able

Mr. Handermann--no, I don't really anymore. If the Church is the new polis, then the Church does not occupy merely one social sphere of human life, but penetrates all of them. Not completely, of course--the Church penetrates the family sphere, but that does not mean families dissolve--but enough that I don't think sphere sovereignty is a helpful model for conceiving the relationships.

Austin: You aren't being facetious, are you?
August 22 at 9:11am • Delete

Austin Storm
Blerg, I always have this problem online. I was being sincere.
August 22 at 3:39pm • Delete

Alan Handermann
Brad,

I understand how you could come to your conclusions, but would respectfully disagree. I could appeal to scripture where Jesus and Paul clearly distinguish between the church, the state and the family- in terms of their functional work in the present age.

I think your main idea may well be true in the millennial age, but until then we are dealing with unregenerate men and mixed bag christians in this world - something I think the NT clearly recognizes & addresses.

If I may so, your idea that the church threatens some type of punishment worse than imprisonment to those you don't offer money for redistribution is completely off the mark!

I think some of the ideas you express here are dangerously close to mistakes which, when in full blossom, led to the grevious errors of the medieval church.

As final note, there is nothing wrong with exploring new applications of scripture, just be careful not to stumble into the "been there, done that, and it doesn't work" weeds.
August 22 at 6:56pm • Delete

Nick Heid
"To be sure, socialism can become theft, but to criticize it as theft by definition is like being outraged that some women become whores and so considering all women whores—a solution that is likely to worsen the problem."

Brad - I enjoyed this post and agree with you partly. However, I think this is more of a problem of semantics and linguistics than people "criticizing it by definition." I would liken it to the use of the word "dude." If you called someone a dude in the late 1800's, they would think you were calling them a wealthy, well dressed city-man. However, not a single person would think you were calling them that today, especially since Larson calls Bethany dude. Similarly, if you say socialism today, you are referring to a nationalistic, one-world government, welfare based Robin-Hood system. You arent referring to a Church-based theory of charity and giving. Don't you think we can just ditch the word socialism and call the system you refer to - Christian charity?

I mean, socialism has really only meant one thing for the last 70 years, hasnt it?
August 23 at 3:54am • Delete

Alan Handermann
Socialism - "Unless you do something good for me, I'll do something bad to you" - (Dr. James Gill & Dr. Ronald Nash)

Capitalism - "If you do something good for me, then I'll do something good for you" - (Dr. James Gill & Dr. Ronald Nash)

Christianity - "I will do something good for you, whether or not you do something good for me" - ACHAugust 26 at 3:29am • Delete

Jess R. Monnette
Brad,

Apologies for the tardiness of this post as I too have been vacationing.

Although it is true that I may be translating words into "legal terminology," I do so because it is precisely here that the rubber meets the road. When the poor man sits outside of my house hungry how far does his claim go? Can he wave down a police officer who will come and raid my refrigerator? Can he walk in himself? What if I only have enough food to feed my own family 1 meager meal a day until payday. What if I am working 80 hours a week just trying to put that food on my table and he has turned down 3 jobs this week in favor of eating my food that he doesn't have to work for? Herein the definition of "claim" becomes very important. If he has a claim then he can take my food. If he does not then my family gets to eat. This example is very common in mainline "socialism" where entitlements becomes rights and the government redistributes the wealth.
As Christians we must always remain cognizant that all of our property (indeed everything that we have) is a gift from God. The tithe and charitable giving are both intended to be constant reminders of this for the Christian. I argue that although we have been commanded to give by God (and therefore don't have a choice) we must. But the mere fact that we are "giving" means that we have some claim to the property that is given. If the receiver has claim on the gift then it is not a gift at all, it is payment. But in the Word we are called to give.

I define terms legally because that is where the enforcement is and it is usually in the enforcement that Socialism becomes evil.
August 26 at 4:30pm • Delete

Brad Littlejohn
Nick--A couple of things. First, we should not ditch a term as soon as a term starts being distorted in popular usage; we should seek to correct popular usage, by using the term carefully and thoughtfully ourselves, rather than encouraging sloppiness by saying things like "socialism=theft." In the last century, socialism did not mean what we often mean by it, and I think for many, aspects of older understanding have continued within the last 70 years. And I suspect that many even now who support it do so because to them it means something at least partially different than "a nationalistic, one-world government, welfare based Robin-Hood system."
Second, my concern is that we understand that we critique modern socialism as a good social concept gone awry, rather than as an intrinsically bad social concept. Many Christians I know are so convinced that anything socialist must be intrinsically bad that they want to criticize the church in Acts as well.

Mr. Handermann--I could appeal to the New Testament, where the roles of the state and the family are radically relativized in light of the church's role. For example, Jesus's insistence that family loyalties have to be broken down for allegiance to the kingdom, which was a complete slap in the face to traditional Jewish ways of thinking. And Paul's insistence that Christians do not go to the civil magistrate to resolve legal disputes, but take care of them within the Church. There remain distinct extra-ecclesial roles for family and state, but I think that the Church has so punctured their "spheres" that it doesn't work well to still call them "spheres."

As far as the millenial age, I mentioned to Josiah that I think there is a danger in overemphasizing the discontinuity, so that we are relieved of the responsibility of beginning to enact the future in the present. That is exactly how New Testament ethics is structured--this is what you are to become through Christ, so begin to act that way now, since Christ has already made it possible.
Of course, the Church does not normally operate by threats...(but in fact, the State often doesn't either--it tries to persuade us that giving our tax money for some purpose is to achieve some good; it doesn't just say, "pay your taxes for this or go to jail")...but there is nevertheless the threat, quite clear in the New Testament, that Christ will turn a blind eye to those who turn a blind eye to their brothers in need. The Church reminds us of this threat, and, if necessary, enforces it in serious cases with church discipline.

Could you clarify what medieval errors this leads to? I'm not sure I see what you're getting at.

I do like your Socialism vs. Capitalism vs. Christianity though, with the caveat that, while the socialism we know operates mainly through threats like that, that is not true of many understandings of socialism.

Jess,
You sound a lot like Pastor Wilson. :-)
But this is why I have said that there's a paradox of reciprocality. As a Christian, I am supposed to give not because I have a claim to what I have and a right to keep it if I want or give it if I want, but I give because I consider it not mine--otherwise, the giving can become a cause for self-righteousness. The giver should consider that the receiver has a claim to it. However, the receiver ought to consider, "This is not mine to which I can lay claim--this comes to me as a gift from you, for which I should be grateful. And I shall try to give to you what I have to give." Perhaps the language of "claim" seems too much like the political language of "entitlements" that we now know so well. But I use it to try and emphasize both the absolute non-negotiability of generosity to all in need, and also to undermine the sanctity of private property rights...because property belongs first to God, it belongs to an individual and/or to a
community depending on the duties that God has given us in that community. We are so afraid of infringing upon private property rights, because we are afraid, as you say, that people are just going to come along and take advantage: “Ah, this is mine…I’ll take that from you…you don’t need your car, really, do you? I’ll borrow that too.” But I would say that first, if we are developing a community understanding based on Christian charity, people in need would understand that charity requires that they act with more courtesy and gratitude than that. And second, I think that Jesus would say that our first concern is not supposed to be how someone responds to our charity—we are supposed to show it, even to an enemy who takes advantage of us, and trust God to use that charity for their good. (The Bishop’s candlesticks in Les Miserables is a great example) Of course, prudence issues have to be weighed here, when making specific applications, but that central point stands.
August 26 at 11:37pm • Delete

Alan Handermann
Regarding “an ideal of absolute private property rights that has no basis whatsoever in Scripture.”
Leaving aside your "an ideal of absolute" predicate, can you explain these verses in terms of "private property rights".
Acts 5:4 “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?”
II Cor. 9:7 “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Matt. 6:3-4a “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your alms may be in secret...”
II Cor. 8:3 “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord.”
I Cor. 13:3 “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor...but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

"roles of the state and the family are radically relativized" - agreed...as long as we are talking about believers. But Paul says " submit...to the governing authorities...for he does not bear the sword for nothing." (Rom 13) Are you advocating that the Church should bear the sword against evildoers?
Could not find "Christ will turn a blind eye to those who turn a blind eye to their brothers in need"; unless you mean "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1 John 3:17).

However, this is regarding whether one truly possesses the love of God - and is not a statement that a believer has lost Christ's attention. In fact, I could make the case (I think it's an exaggeration) that Christ goes ESPECIALLY after the lost sheep, leaving the obedient unattended!
"millenial age...I think there is a danger in overemphasizing the discontinuity" - understand where your coming from - scriptures about the Kingdom of God growing (mustard seed to tree, rock into mountain, etc.) However, scripture also makes a clear distinction between the "last days" (this first heaven and the first earth will passed away) and "the new heaven and a new earth". Always something to muddy the water :)

My point about "medieval errors" was not clear, my fault. What I was trying to indicate was a perception that your essay could lead one to think that direct Church involvement (i.e. Sessions, church officials, etc.) in all aspects of state governance is scriptural. I'm not an authority, but at its root, I believe this was one of the main errors of the medieval church, which ultimately led to a lot of corruption and heresy.
August 27 at 12:55am • Delete

Brad Littlejohn
Hey, sorry I kinda dropped out of this...I forgot it wasn't necessarily finished.
In reply to your first point: The first, second, and fourth verses I take to be emphasizing that Christian charity should not bound by physical compulsion...should not be something dragged out of people by coercion, but ought to be the overflow of a grateful heart that has been set free by Christ to love its neighbors. That is why I resisted Jess's attempts to force the conversation into legal terminology. The claims of charity are different than the claims of the law. Biblically, though, there are all sorts of things that we are left "free" to do, but which we are obliged to do...we are to love Christ freely, not at sword-point (thus the medieval error), but that does not mean that we are not obligated to love Him, and that there aren't consequences for failing.
Your third and fifth verses, I think, are making different points, which I am in no way denying.

The Biblical model, I think, is best summarized as "normally individual stewardship of communal property" or perhaps "normally individual stewardship of God's property on behalf of the community," though neither completely captures it...the latter, in particular, sounds too domesticated. And of course, there is an important place for communal stewardship as well, as we see in early Acts, where the church leaders act as stewards of the resources for everyone. I see this model all over the place, but particularly, as I said, in Deuteronomy, and, more vividly, in Acts 4:32-37.

Regarding your second comment, not at all. I am suggesting that the Church use the more powerful weapons of charity against evildoers, and encourage the State to do the same. I don't know how you could read what I'm saying as the Church bearing the sword--as you do also in your fifth comment

Your third comment--sorry, I thought the text I was alluding to was clear--Matt. 25:31-46 (and there are others along these lines, of course).

Your fourth comment: Yes, these are muddy waters, always and unavoidably. But I think the difference between the last days and the new heavens is less a difference of how the Church ought to conduct itself than a difference of what response the Church should expect to its conduct...though that is of course an oversimplification.

Your fifth comment: you seem to quite misunderstand me. The problem with the medieval Church was that the Church was adopting the methods and imitating the lifestyle of the State (or rather, of the civil authorities..."State" is an anachronism here). I am arguing for the opposite. Of course, I think the Church ought to be directly involved in many of the sorts of things that the State is currently involved in, but not using anything like the methods of the State. The error of the medieval Church was not in saying that the Church had something to say about trade, but in the Church using force motivated by greed when it addressed matters of trade.
September 2 at 1:24pm • Delete

Alan Handermann
Brad,

We have discussed details, now let's address the question you state in the title of your essay. This video addresses it all:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEFA4uOPnV8

In the video, the governmental systems of the last 100 years, are clearly explained. The last third of the video addresses the morality question of the type of gov't. the founding fathers crafted for us (a republic). It is an excellent video and clearly leads to a one word answer to your title's question - EVERYTHING.
September 3 at 12:51pm • Delete

Brad Littlejohn
Are you serious? That video is absurdly oversimplistic propaganda...even if there have only been two basic forms of government in the past 100 years, it's ridiculous to assert that there are only two basic forms of government.
In any case, what that video addresses does not really have hardly any relevance that I can see to the discussion here.
September 4 at 3:26pm • Delete

Alan Handermann
"Simplicity is complexity resolved" Constantin Brancusi
September 4 at 3:38pm • Delete

6 comments:

You should apologize for the Glenn Beck posts. Ranting at Beck is bad. Laughing at Beck (and Fox, and CNN, etc. etc.) is the proper reaction. He's such an enjoyable character.

September 10, 2009 at 4:39 PM  

Yes, I know, Donny...but I have never been able to master your easy-going, above-the-fray derision. I have to leap down into the fray and start grabbing people by the throat.

Again, probably a good thing that I'm a semi-pacifist...hopefully, within a few years, that will start mollifying my militant spirit.

September 11, 2009 at 2:21 PM  

Wow--so many responses. Thanks for posting them.

While I'm sympathetic to your conclusion--that some redistribution of wealth is, in principle, justified--I find your path to it problematic, because it seems to argue too much. If I understand correctly, your view is that--within a community--redistribution of wealth is not "theft" anymore than it is theft that a son obliges his father to clothe and feed him. In the same way that notions of individual property are dissolved at the level of the family, these notions are dissolved (albeit to a lesser extent) at the level of community.

But the problem here is that, at the end of the day, this is really just a move away from individualism and towards collectivism: rather than being drawn around the individual/nuclear family, "identity" is construed much wider, across a large community. While this might be convenient at the moment for your views about the redistribution of wealth, it also undermines, I think, the whole concept of individual rights--the protection of which is a core commitment of liberalism (and indeed, Americanism).

If property rights get dissolved at the community level, then what is your story for individual rights in general? If the community can take your property, can it not also force you to adhere to its preferred religion, prohibit you from speaking out, etc.? It seems that on your view, socialism doesn't equal theft; but neither does sedition equal tyranny. After all, it is not some "alien agent" that prohibits the speech. You say: "[A] community of people bound together seeking the common good can decide that some of their resources should be shared...." That's true; but it's also true that that same community of people bound together seeking the common good can make all sorts of awful decisions that abuse a put-upon minority. What are needed are some generic apriori constraints on what the majority can do that everyone agrees upon at the outset--in other words, rights. But your view--which seems to elide the long and sordid human track record of ganging up to oppress outcasts, nonconformists, iconoclasts, dissenters, and unsavory Others--doesn't seem to have any place for such constraints.

This is why John Rawles' thinking is so important in this area: it gives an account of liberalism that allows for the redistribution of wealth, and yet avoids the pitfall of collectivism, retaining a core commitment to apriori individual rights.

**BTW, on a separate note**
Something I've had difficulty tracking is what it is, exactly, that separates "bad socialism" from "good socialism". You keep on alluding to how present day implementations of socialism are nothing less than "evil", yet seem to be perfectly content with the Church's version--even though both versions seem to do the same basic thing, which is persuade (and, ultimately if need be, coerce) people to give money to the poor. What are some necessary and sufficient conditions for good socialism vs. bad socialism? Or: what laws could British parliament pass tomorrow that would move it from "evil" socialism to the good kind?

September 12, 2009 at 9:45 AM  

Don't grab Glenn Beck by the throat; it's too pretty.

September 13, 2009 at 12:42 AM  

I don't even know what that means, Donny.

September 13, 2009 at 3:55 AM  

Hey David,
John Rawls, eh? I always suspected we were much further apart than it seemed at times.

I'm opposed to any attempt to derive a theory of political rights and obligations from natural law, especially when natural law is not even framed by a theistic context. I think all such attempts are bound to fail. In particular, they cannot, with any normative force, balance the competing imperatives to social cooperation and to individual rights.

But, that requires a much bigger discussion, and I should probably read Rawls before I have that discussion.

I do understand what you're getting at with your objection, and you're right that what I'm saying could seem to encourage a tyranny of the majority. If I were giving a strictly political, amoral, account, then that would be the result. But I'm not...such an approach to politics only works from a standpoint of Christian morality.

See, I don't like to talk in terms of "rights," although I appreciate what that language is trying to safeguard. I prefer to talk in terms of "obligations" or "duties" (as has the Christian tradition). Thus, instead of saying, "You have a right to freedom of speech," why not say, "I have a duty to hear you out, since that's what I'd like you to do for me"? I don't think we protect against tyranny of the majority by insisting on the inalienable individual rights of the minority, otherwise, every minority of one can start to use his individual right to self-expression to tyrannize everyone else. (See David Bentley Hart's "Freedom and Decency" for some keen thoughts relevant to this.)

I would rather say that the majority has the obligation to not trample roughshod on the objecting minority. Sounds idealistic, eh? Well, like I said, I'm presupposing that it won't work unless it is firmly founded on morality and ecclesial communion. But, I don't think any political organization will work except on that foundation.

As far as bad vs. good socialism...a big part of the answer is what I just said. And a big part of it is localism vs. faceless bureaucracy. Socialism can work if it is the product of a genuine community, not if it is imposed top-down on a large number of communities who have no real union with one another or their government. But, surely, there is more to the answer, and I assure you that I am working on it....I'll keep you posted.

September 18, 2009 at 4:06 PM  

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